Born Eugene Paul, Gen Paul was born in a house in Montmartre on July 2, 1895. The painter and engraver began his artistic career at a young age, drawing and painting often as a child. However, when his father died in 1910, Paul was forced to find work to support himself and his family. Luckily, the young Paul found a job working on decorative furnishings, and was able to continue to be creative and artistic. At the outbreak of World War I Paul joined the French army, and was subsequently wounded, losing a leg. It was only then, during his recovery, that Paul turned back to the love of his childhood – painting.
Gen Paul found himself constantly inspired by his surroundings. At the time of his youth, Montmartre was a hub of creativity, luring talented painters, writers, poets, and musicians from all over the world. Gen Paul was able to interact with and befriend many of the avant-garde painters of his time, including Juan Gris, Utrillo, and Vlaminck. He befriended artist Jean Dufy, and the two often inspired and challenged each other to create newer, better work. Against this heavily artistic backdrop, Paul began to develop his own signature style, a dynamic new form of expressionism.
Fascinated with jazz, Paul traveled through the U.S., from New York to New Orleans and on to California, discovering subjects that begin to appear in his paintings. His style broadened, and he began to solidify his place in the art world. Through his use of gestural brushstrokes, Paul created inherent motion within his works, leading many art historians to name him the first action painter and a precursor to the abstract expressionists of the 1950s. Even his later works, made during a period of heavy alcoholism, feature a rhythm within the strokes that makes them easily identifiable as Gen Paul pieces.
Gen Paul never received any formal training, yet he was able to make a living from his art for almost 60 years, even achieving such honors as being awarded the Legion of Honor in 1934. Only in 1964, at the age of 69, did Paul stopping painting. He could not, however, keep himself from creating in some way, and continued to draw and produce lithographs until his death in 1972.